PESHAWAR, Feb 18: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa continues to bear with an ineffective early warning system in case of floods as Malakand division and Peshawar valley are not covered by the Met Office’s weather radars, experts say.
Central Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Malakand division, according to weather experts, do not fall in the coverage area of any of weather radars installed at Karachi, Rahim Yar Khan, Lahore, Islamabad and DI Khan.
The issue poses a potential threat to people’s safety in these areas as, according to officials, it leaves the civil administration with not much time to respond to mitigate risks to public life by undertaking mass evacuation in an event of an approaching flood.
“That was what exactly happened in August 2010 when the civil administration’s response to the approaching flood in Nowshera, Charsadda, and Peshawar was far from being quick,” said an official closely associated with the provincial government’s efforts to put in place a disaster management plan.
The response time, said a meteorologist, could be improved by modernising the early warning system and flood forecasting system, which, according to him, in the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa needed major improvements.
“We do know how much water the Chitral River carries by the time it enters Afghanistan from Chitral district, but when it remerges into Pakistan no one knows – in Peshawar or Islamabad – how much water it is carrying with it or what is its speed,” he told Dawn on Saturday.
The Chitral River originates in the upper Chitral region where glacial snow, from the Hindukush Range, starts melting in early spring every year. After entering into Afghanistan, it merges with the Kunar River that makes one of four major tributaries of the Kabul River.
The Kabul River, according to the meteorologist, covers hundreds of kilometers and accumulates water from torrents in its catchment area and major rivers that merge with it on its way before entering Pakistan from the Torkham border area.
An official of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) when contacted said the provincial government had, more than once, intimated it willingness to invest Rs 300 million from its own resources for installing a weather-radar at Chirat near Peshawar. “But its plan has met resistance from the federal authorities,” said the official.
The plan’s execution, according to a federal government official, has not been materialised due a lingering dispute between ministry of defence and its subsidiary meteorological department.
Under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s funded project, an S-Band weather radar, used for near and far weather observations, would be installed at Chirat heights, in District Nowshera.
The meteorologist said the Met Office’s S-Band radars installed at Islamabad were restricted by the Margalla Heights that blocked its frequency.
Similarly, the DI Khan facility, he added, did not cover the Central Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Malakand Division due to the longer distance. The weather radar, he added, collected data within a range of 300 kilometer radius.
“Initially, the government planned for installing a radar at Chirat and another in Malakand division for improved monitoring of river flows, but paucity of funds restricted it to settle with one in Nowshera district,” said the PDMA official.
The main impediment in the way of the plan’s execution, said the federal government official, was the defence ministry’s reluctance to agree to take over the operation and maintenance expenditure in the long run.
As per the proposed plan, according to the meteorologist, the provincial government would provide money for executing the project. The province, he added, wanted the Met Office to take over the radar and its O&M costs once the facility became functional.He said the Met Office was not ready to it due to financial constraints. “Some 10 to 20 employees will be employed and if the Met department’s funds do not allow it to take care of the O&M cost after two years then who is going to foot the bill?” said the official. The defense ministry’s readiness to agree to accept the long-term expenditure requirements of the project, he added, was a must.
The meteorologist said new weather radars, to be imported either from the US or the UK, would allow the flood response teams six to eight hours more for the preparations in an event of an approaching flood.
In 2010, he added, the local authorities had been issued the flood warnings by the local Met Office eight hours before the flood-hit plains in Nowshera, Charsadda, and Peshawar.
“The new radar would make it possible to compile the exact water flows, water speed, and issue the warning 12 to 16 hours ahead of an approaching flood,” said the official.
The proposal to install a weather-radar at Chirat had been put on paper several years before the 2010 floods. In 2005, a survey had also been conducted on the basis of which a site for installing the radar at a height of 1,500 meters had also been selected, but action on the proposal could not taken mainly due to financial constraints.